Becoming the Caregiver

What follows is a guest post by Allison Schroeder, a 30-something mother of three who finds herself also caring for her parents. Below she opens up about the challenges that being in the Sandwich Generation brings.

I’ve sat in countless doctors’ appointments with my mom. Always as the patient, the kid, the one who needed care. Her handing me tissues and filling out my paperwork for me. Her encouraging me when the nurse called us back and her keeping me occupied with outdated magazines and torn waiting room books.

The first time I felt it necessary to go with her to talk to her doctor the role reversal was so incredible it was nearly tangible. Her hands were weak and shaky, and it was just easier for me to handle the paperwork. The water cooler was on the other side of the room so without a thought I filled her cup.

The progression of things in life are often subtle. We age every single day yet so slowly. One day we are the needy child and the next we are pushing the wheelchair of the woman who just yesterday pushed our stroller. Sometimes we see a definitive turning point and other times it’s an area that has grayed as slowly as their hair.

Sure, there are circumstances where becoming the caretaker happens very quickly. A progressive illness, a bad fall, an accident of some sort. The sudden need to provide care to a previously independent person presents its own set of challenges.

For me it was a more gradual introduction into the world of caregiving.

That first doctor’s appointment feels like the starting line of what would become a marathon of sorts. I sort of tip toed my way in. Not sure I wanted to assume this role, not sure what role I was even really taking on. Like being hired without a job description I just sort of started doing what I felt needed to be done. Some days my help isn’t needed at all; other days I’ve spent countless hours on the phone figuring out medicine issues, insurance problems, or sitting by her bedside to accompany my dad.

At that first doctor’s appointment with her, she was able to walk in with minimal assistance. Today, just a few years later, I guide her wheelchair through the hallways and we joke about my bad “driving” just as we did when I turned 16 and she covered her eyes when I was behind the wheel.

Although my physical presence isn’t needed daily for her care, I’ve become the go-to. The needed person when medical problems arise. The advocate when she is confused and the liaison when she isn’t up to the task of conversation. And like the gradually graying hair, I’m sure my role will continue to increase in her care.

No matter when it happens, how it happens, in what way you become needed, when the person who raised you needs you, you become the caregiver.